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By Aaron Deslatte and Scott Powers, Orlando Sentinel

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Charlie Crist’s transformation from Republican governor to Democratic nominee was cemented Tuesday as he easily cruised to the nomination for his old job by his new party.

Now voters and donors will be bracing themselves as Crist and GOP Governor Rick Scott wage one of the hottest political fights in the nation. Both sides are likely to carpet-bomb the airwaves with negative advertising during a two-month march to the Nov. 4 general election.

With most counties reporting, Crist had received 74.4 percent of the vote statewide compared to 25.6 percent for former Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich. Although Rich has been running for two years, Crist refused to debate her and donors largely stayed away.

“This campaign will come down to who Floridians trust to fight for them, and they know that Charlie Crist has always been on the side of the people,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant said in a statement.

“Rick Scott has spent the last four years selling Florida to the highest bidder with taxpayer funded giveaways to big corporations while cutting education and turning his back on the middle class.”

Since Crist entered the race last November, Scott and his allies have shoveled more than $65 million into advertising and other campaign expenses.

Crist has spent just a fraction of that so far — about $18.5 million from Crist’s campaign funds and Florida Democratic Party coffers — but that spending will accelerate now thanks to donors from across the country interested in establishing a beachhead in the all-important swing state for the 2016 presidential election.

“The next few months are about talk versus action,” Scott said in a statement. “That means Florida will have a choice between a governor who sent our state into a tailspin and a governor who gets results. Charlie Crist failed as governor, lost 830,000 jobs, and tried to run off to Washington — and now he wants his job back.”

Scott also easily won his party’s nomination for re-election in what was little more than a formality against two unknown Republicans, Yinka Abosede Adeshina and Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder. Early returns had him with 87.4 percent of the vote.

Democratic voters also tapped George Sheldon as their long-shot nominee to run against incumbent Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi. Sheldon, a former legislator who served as secretary of the Department of Children and Families under Crist’s administration, was leading Perry Thurston, the current House minority leader, 61.9 percent to 38.1 percent.

In one of the toughest primary battles, state Sen. Geraldine Thompson was easily deflecting a challenge from her predecessor and longtime political rival, former state Sen. Gary Siplin, in District 12, which covers much of western Orange County. In early returns Thompson held a commanding 65 to 35 lead.

For the Republicans, Edward DeAguilera held an early 55-45 lead over Fritz Jackson Seide, to face Thompson in November, in a district that has been a Democratic stronghold for years.

Several state House of Representatives races were hotly contested this summer.

In District 31, in eastern Lake County and western Orange, tea party favorite Jennifer Sullivan, who is just 22, led Randy Glisson by six points in a crowded field. The other candidates, Belita Grassel, Terri Seefeldt, Joseph Stephenswere well back and out of the running.

The winner will be elected, since there is no Democrat so there will be no general election.

Photo: Robert Duyos/Sun Sentinel/MCT

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